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22 December 2015 15:50

The Carbon Brief Interview: Michel Jarraud

Roz Pidcock

Roz Pidcock

French Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of World Meteorological Organization, (WMO), speaks to the media about the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland
Roz Pidcock

Roz Pidcock

22.12.2015 | 3:50pm
InterviewsThe Carbon Brief Interview: Michel Jarraud

Michel Jarraud is the long-serving Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), due to leave office at the end of 2015 after more than ten years. Mr Jarraud began his career as a researcher for the French national meteorological service and after many years at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, he was appointed deputy director in 1991. Jarraud will be succeeded at the WMO by Petteri Taalas, Director-General of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

  • On climate skeptics: “Sometimes you have people who will also refuse to see the evidence…If people refuse to argue on rational things, it’s difficult to convince them.”
  • On scientific uncertainty: “Remaining uncertainties should not be an excuse for inaction…If we don’t take action, we shall not be able to plead ignorance.”
  • On greenhouse gas neutrality: “[We] will have to be climate neutral near the end of the century, which means essentially emissions are compensated by sinks.”
  • On different scientific disciplines: “Something which is still weak in my view is the connection between the physical climate scientists and the economic community.”
  • On 2C and beyond: “The higher you go, clearly the higher the risks…Now we are in totally uncharted territory. For the human species.”
  • On momentum post-Paris: “I guess the right word would be to be cautious – it’s a cautious optimism because we still have quite a lot of work to be done.”


CB: You’ve been head of the WMO for more than 10 years. Do you think the remit of the WMO has changed in that time? What differences have you observed?

MJ: Well, over the last ten years, there has been, of course, a growing emphasis on issues such as disaster prevention. You may know that over the last 50 years, about 90% of all natural disasters were related to weather, water, climate extremes. But also – and that’s not a surprise here in Paris – there’s been a growing emphasis on the climate and climate change issues, in particular. So, these things have really grown in importance. But I would say that, generally, over the last ten years there has been a tremendous improvement in our scientific understanding, scientific knowledge of these issues, which has translated into tremendous improvement in the accuracy of weather forecast, of warnings for extreme events, So, one of our challenges is to translate this scientific progress into operational information that can be used by decision-makers. And this is very, very critical in particular for climate sciences.

CB: This week, India has seen some of the heaviest rain for 100 years and severe flooding. And actually in the UK, there is also flooding that very senior people in the media are linking to climate change. Do you think that’s right? How do you think we should be talking about these events in relation to climate change?

MJ: Actually, this is a somewhat difficult issue. What we call the attribution. How much can we attribute to climate change because, you know, in normal situations, there is already a lot of variability. From year to year, you can have a dry period, you can have a wet period, you can have floods, you can have droughts, you can have storms and so on. So the attribution is often difficult, but there’s been progress for large-scale recent heatwaves. We can say – like the one which occurred in Russia about two years ago, the one in Western Europe in 2003 and a few others – we can now say that if there had not been the climate change that we are experiencing now, they would have been very unlikely. The other thing we know is that because of climate change, there’s been warming of the ocean and as a result of that – plus the melting of the glaciers – the sea level has been rising quite significantly. Because of this sea level rise, some events are more devastating than they would have been 40 or 50 years ago. For example, Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines had more impact because there’s been already more than 35cm sea level rise over the last 40 years in the Philippines, where it was hitting. Same thing in Japan, with Fukushima. It was a tsunami, so in a sense the earthquake which [caused] the tsunami is not a meteorological or climate event, but because of sea level rise the impact was bigger. Now, back to your question – for some others, it’s still difficult to attribute, first of all, heavy rains to climate change. What we know is that with climate change coming, the frequency of some of these things will increase significantly. For example, frequency and intensity of heatwaves will increase. Frequency and intensity of droughts in some parts of the world will increase. The frequency of intense rain will increase at middle and high latitude. So in a sense, we can say that what we see, we may not be able to attribute to climate change but it’s compatible with what we expect from climate change.

CB: As well as the field of attribution pushing the limits of science, how important do you think it also is for communication purposes?

MJ: It is important from many angles. One of the angles is that climate change is not something only for the future, it is already there. We see some of the impacts now. So, that is important because we are not talking only about 2100, the end of the century, we are talking about [seeing] some impact now. But at the same time, it is important to keep in mind the longer term perspective. We have a little bit of early warning of what we may expect from the future, but we should not assume that we can wait for action. Because if we wait for this event to be even more intense, even more frequent, it will be too late. And the reason why it will be too late is because once you emit some of the greenhouse gases – I’m thinking CO2, for example – they will stay for decades, even hundreds of years in the atmosphere. So, this is to illustrate that what we see now is just the premises of what we are likely to see later.

CB: So, let’s talk about you for a second. What’s your own background in science? Tell us how you got to be head of the WMO.

MJ: Well that’s a long story, of course! [Laughs] I started to make weather observations when I was nine years old. So, it has been a very long association with the atmosphere, the clouds and so on. But my background is essentially a scientific background: mathematics, physics and then specialising in the atmospheric science. I was more specifically specialising in numerical modelling of this issue. Then I went to operational, I was head of forecasting in the French met service for a while and I came to WMO and now I’m involved in the coordination of all the activities of met services and also hydrological issues.

CB: So what have been your highlights over your term as Secretary-General. What do you think you’re most proud of in that time?

MJ: Well, actually I’m proud of many things [smiles]. I’m proud of the fact that in meteorology, it’s really a tremendous community where no country can do it alone. So even the biggest country needs the small country. Every country gets more out of the cooperation than what they put into the cooperation. I’m very proud that the spirit of cooperation was strengthened even further over the last few years. I’m very proud the WMO contributed very much to the realisation that climate change is a big issue. In a sense by contributing to this knowledge now, we can help to prevent the thing to become worse later. But I’m also very proud of something over the last 10, 20, 30 years. When we talk about extreme events, you know, many people still die from extreme events but much fewer than 50 years ago. If you take decade after decade, now the casualties out of extreme events are about 10 times smaller than they were 50 years ago because we have much better early warnings and because these early warnings are much better integrated in disaster prevention. That being said, we can do and we should do even better. I’m not satisfied yet with where we are, we can save even more lives. So, that’s only a few things – I could go on and on. There are many things where there has been huge progress.

CB: With you meteorology background and the WMO’s involvement in climate change and climate change communication, how do you see the interaction – and the understanding of the interaction – between weather and climate? Do you see that evolving over time as well?

MJ: You know, you can see the weather as what is happening now. So you see rain, storms and the climate is looking at things over a longer period. The climate is…you look at periods of 5 years, 10 years, 30 years. But there’s no strict limit between the two, it’s a continuous thing from the very short scale to the very long scale. But the nature of the information we provide is quite different. I’m sure that you would expect, watching weather forecasts, to have very accurate forecasts for tomorrow. Will there be snow, no snow, or rain, what is the amount of rain, what will be the strength of the wind? This is…you expect [a] very precise forecast. When it comes to the climate timescale, what we are talking [about] is scenarios, probabilities to say ok, this is the range. And progressively, it’s a very different type of information and this information has to be used in a very different way by decision makers. For example, you cannot say for sure there will be an El Niño in ten years from now. That, we don’t know. We may know that the frequency of certain things will increase but how to integrate that into decision making is a different thing. So to do that, we have been developing over the last five or six years what we call the global framework for climate services – how to translate these scientific progress into actionable information for the various sectors which are climate sensitive: health, water management, disaster prevention, food security, energy, I could go on and on. How can we package this information in a way that the farmer can use, in a way that the governments can use? And it’s not the same, by the way, for a farmer and the government – a different type of information but based on the same scientific basis.

CB: How much, or how quickly, do you see progress happening there in terms of operational services?

MJ: Progress is quite fast actually, but not as fast as we would like. So yes, it is moving but we need to move even faster because many countries – and I’m thinking in particular of the developing countries – when it comes to climate information, they are very, very far behind. And to do that – it’s part of the negotiations here in Paris – if you want to implement proper adaptation but also mitigation action, you need to base it on proper information and many developing countries do not have yet the right information. So to do that, we need to invest more still in observation networks, in research, in transforming this information into products which can be used. It’s a mature initiative and I’m very glad to see progress but I would like this progress to be even faster. I would like some of the funds that would be allocated to climate adaptation to go to strengthen the knowledge base, in particular in developing countries.

CB: What or where do you think the priorities are? What do you think are perhaps the biggest unresolved issues or where would you like to see attentions focused?

MJ: I would like to maybe look at it from two or three different perspectives. One of them, we need to strengthen further the observation network. Some of these observation networks – in particular hydrology, but some others – are even degrading in some parts of the world. So there won’t be good products if we don’t get the good information. So, we need to strengthen observations further. We need also to strengthen human capacity. Many countries do not have the expertise to deal with these products. So we need to strengthen the institutions, such as the national meteorological and hydrological services so that every country would have available expertise to provide information to their national users. At the same time, we have also to focus on a few key initial priority sectors. We felt that what is important is that what we do is compatible with what the countries of the planet have decided to do with the agenda 2030. In other words, we have now – the countries of this planet have – in a unanimous fashion, that’s very important – decided in September to adopt sustainable development goals. And you know, 17 goals have been adopted. It is important that we support the implementation of these goals and you know, most of them will be affected by climate change. Many of them are affected by weather. So, how can we make sure that we support, in a cross-cutting fashion, these things? To do that we felt that some of the key priorities, for example, are disaster prevention. We said already a number of disasters will increase in a changing climate so we need to put more emphasis on elaborating on the link between climate and disasters, and providing more information to reduce the vulnerability to extreme events. Water management – often we think about climate change in terms of temperature but actually the most important parameter which will be affected is the water cycle. In a water stressed area, there will be even more stress on the water resources. Not only because of demographic change, because of economic change but because of climate change as well. So, water management is a critical area. Another one is the link between climate and health. Some diseases will expand in areas that they don’t exist now because of climate change. Another one has to do with food security. You see, a few years ago there were some major food crises. Right now, for the last few years there’s been hotspots here and there but no very large-scale one. However, all the ingredients are there for a food crisis to come back on a very large scale. So it is important that we help all these countries which are vulnerable by providing proper information to minimise the risk of that happening again. Energy – if we’re serious about mitigation, we need to get information for renewable energy, for operating. So, we need also to get more information on that. These are the top five priorities we have identified. It doesn’t mean the rest is not important. But at least these are what we have identified as top priorities at this stage.

CB: If I can ask you something quite topical, there are lots of headlines today about new research that came out yesterday suggesting that global emissions from fossil fuels are projected to stall in 2015. How significant do you think that is? Do you think we are seeing the end of the period of soaring emissions?

MJ: Well, what you have seen is that there might have been a reduction in the growth rate of emissions. We have not stopped emissions, human activities still emit a lot of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And you see, when you emit CO2, about a quarter is absorbed by the ocean, about a quarter is absorbed by biomass and about 50% stays in the atmosphere. Now this 50% which is in the atmosphere is there for decades. Actually, the residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere is more in centuries than decades. So, even though the rate of emissions may be increasing a bit less than before, it still means that we inject even more CO2 in the atmosphere. So, unless we not only do that but reduce significantly the emissions, it will not be possible to stay under the 2C threshold. So yes, it’s better, it could have been worse. But it’s far, far from enough to keep under 2C. So we should not give the sort of…we should not have the illusion that yes, now we don’t have to worry any longer. Yes, i’m still worried because we still emit [a] significant amount and year after year – and this is what the WMO is monitoring on a regular basis – we break new records of concentration of greenhouse gases. A few months ago, we published the very latest news and once again, we have reached the highest level ever for concentration for CO2, for methane, for nitrous oxide and quite a few others. So, no the news are not yet good news. Only if we come to a good, strong ambitious agreement in Paris.

CB: At the same time as the 400ppm concentration announcement it was also announced that we’d passed 1C above preindustrial temperatures. Those two milestones together, how powerful do you think that was?

MJ: Yeah, you know when we talk about 2C it is important to realise it’s not 2C from now, we are already 1C behind us, down. So the only margin we have if we want to stay under 2C is to keep the next warming to less than 1C – one plus one is two. So, we have less than 1C now left and it’s not very much. We felt it was important for the negotiators to know that these are, unfortunately, very solid facts. This year, 2015, although it’s not completely finished will most likely end up as the warmest year on record – by a significant margin, not just a marginal [amount]. It’s a significant margin. So, all that adds to the urgency. It is still possible to stay under 2C but it requires bold and ambitious action.

CB: You mentioned the hottest year on record – the conversations are actually quite similar. In the same way that you said a slowing growth rate in emissions doesn’t signify a trend, one hottest year on record – or perhaps 2014 and 2015 – also doesn’t signify a trend just yet, so how do you suggest we talk about these kind of things?

MJ: You are quite correct and this is something we have been saying all the time. We should not focus on individual years. Actually, what WMO recommends is when you look at climate change, we should look at periods of maybe 30 years but at least 10 years. And from year to year, there’s a significant variability due to many factors including this year, on top of the warming trend, we have an El Niño phenomena. So, this is certainly adding to the warming. That’s why it’s important to look at trends over longer periods. But let’s look at ten year periods. The last 10 years have been the warmest ever, every decade of the last 40 years has been warmer than the previous one. Every five-year period has been warmer than the previous one, every 30-year period has been warmer than the previous one. So whichever [way] you look at it, there is no pause in the warming. So when you hear “pause”, I’m sorry there is no pause. Of course, individual years can fit here and there but let’s look first of all, I mentioned this year was an El Niño year. But this El Niño year is warmer than any previous El Niño year. If we had the opposite of El Niño, we call it La Niña. Every La Niña year has been warmer than the previous one over the recent years. What we call now a cold year would have been warmer than any warm year before 1998. So, no there’s no “pause”.

CB: So why do you think there has been such a preoccupation with this idea of a slowdown in surface temperature, or a “pause” or a “hiatus”? Where did that come from?

MJ: Well, I wish that people would stick to the scientific facts and there may be other reasons for people to refuse to see the evidence. But the evidence is there, the scientific evidence is here. And there may be other reasons of course, your guess is as good as mine on these issues.

CB: But it’s not just the media though, for example. The IPCC in its last report used the term “hiatus” and actually gave quite a lot of time to explaining what scientists do and don’t know about it. Do you think that a mistake then?

MJ: I would not have used the word “hiatus” myself, I’m not saying it’s a mistake. You see the starting point of the study was 1998, which was the warmest El Niño year of the last century. So of course, if you start on the warmest year, the trend will be a bit weaker. I think what was interesting – and that’s what IPCC concluded – is that yes, the warming…maybe we were expecting even more warming, they didn’t say there was no warming. We have to keep in mind that about the imbalance between the energy we receive from the sun and what we emit back, this is what contributes to the warming. This imbalance, about 93% of it is absorbed by the ocean. About 3% only goes into the atmosphere, the rest is about the glaciers and other things. But essentially, only 3% goes into the atmosphere. So there was never any pause in the warming of the ocean, and the IPCC confirmed that. And you see, that was very helpful to say that maybe even more heat was stored into the ocean. And now, this heat is not regular from year to year because it depends on many things. First of all, in an El Niño year there’s a bit of release from the ocean to the atmosphere, during La Niña it’s the other way around. So the IPCC never said there was…the imbalance is there, the heat has to go somewhere and they confirmed that certainly the ocean continued to warm. And not only the top ocean, but also deep down – we have instruments to measure that at least up to 2,000 metres deep. So it is warming, and this is where this heat goes. And the ocean itself cannot accumulate forever this thing.

CB: Do you think then – I mean, it has been argued that if scientists had talked more openly about natural variability and the redistribution of heat in the climate system a long time ago then we wouldn’t be in this situation of having to explain every up and down. Do you subscribe to that view?

MJ: It’s an interesting point because I’m not aware of any other scientific discipline that has been through such a rigorous assessment process. I’m not aware of any other. Now, why sometimes you still have these questions around, I must say as a scientist who likes to base things on evidence, on facts, on rational things, I’m still struggling to understand why. So obviously, it means that maybe we need to communicate a bit differently. We may not have done our job in the most efficient way to get the message through. On the other hand, sometimes you have people who will always refuse to see the evidence. I’m sure you can find a few people around who will argue that the earth is flat. OK. Sometimes there are limits to what…if people refuse to argue on rational things, it’s difficult to convince them. The other thing which I feel may not be helpful, sometimes you have these surveys saying “do you believe in that.” In my view, it’s not a matter of belief. We are trying..there are facts, there are laws of physics, there’s evidence and do we have enough evidence or not? There are some remaining questions where we may not have 100% of the answer. For example – how much CO2 can the ocean absorb? The ocean absorbs a lot but how much can it absorb? What is the exact role of clouds? We have made huge progress, we understand much better but still we would like to know a bit better. Will climate change lead to more frequent, more intense El Niño? We start to have answers, we shall have answers, but we don’t have yet all the answers we want. But this sort of remaining uncertainties should not be an excuse for inaction. We know already a lot, we know enough to make action and if we don’t take action now, we shall not be able to plead ignorance for the lack of action. We know enough to take action.

CB: Let’s talk a little bit more about the IPCC then. So, the IPCC has a new chair and that could be seen as a time for renewal, a new phase, a time to regroup and reenergise perhaps. What do you think should be important in the next stage of the IPCC?

MJ: I think it’s important..there are many things and I certainly will not talk in the place of the new chair of the IPCC. From the WMO perspective, we believe it’s important to keep the cycle of IPCC because although there’s been significant progress, although often you hear this phrase “science has spoken”, there are still a few areas where we would like to make even more progress – on the attribution, on the link between climate change and, as I mentioned, El Niño, and a few others. So it is important to keep this scientific foundation of IPCC. Of course, IPCC now is making more things to link it to economic issue, other issues. There were, as you know, a lot of comments about are these reports formulated in the best way to communicate the message. The new chair of the IPCC says they certainly want to put more emphasis on that aspect and I think that is certainly very important – and he’s right. But the IPCC, as you know, doesn’t do any research. The IPCC – and that’s a very important aspect – assesses what is the state of knowledge with respect to the climate issue, climate change, and at the same time makes recommendations and analysis which are policy relevant but stops short of being policy prescriptive. Countries, decision makers will have to make decisions. It’s important that it is done in the best possible way. So it’s done collectively by all the members of the planet and the scientific foundation is based on the work of all the thousands of scientists working on this issue all over the planet. So, from a WMO perspective, you may know we created IPCC together with UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, in 1988 and we believe it’s still very important to continue to provide these very, very solid foundations for decision-making.

CB: You mentioned a very important characteristic of the IPCC, which is to be policy relevant but not policy prescriptive. When I interviewed all the candidates for the chair, they all more or less agreed with that but had slightly different ideas about how far that could extend. And in fact the outgoing chair, Rajendra Pachauri, suggested something even as far as assessing countries’ INDC’s [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions]. Do you think the definitions of policy-relevance are shifting?

MJ: I think that it’s really up to member states to answer that question. From a WMO perspective, we still believe it’s very important that whenever we provide scientific evidence, there cannot be the slightest suspicion that these facts can be influenced by lobbies, it has to be based on the most rigorous observation, research and development. So I cannot answer completely your question but I think it’s still a fundamental principle that we should separate…we should not be judge and party. These are two independent things, complementary. It’s important that governments can trust the information, wherever it comes from. You know there is [a] big discussion about the monitoring of the Paris agreement, whatever that will be. It will be important that whatever is done is transparent, it’s reliable, it’s credible, it’s authoritative. And we shall certainly, on quite a few things, we shall continue to do our part on the greenhouse gases, on monitoring the impact on temperature, on extreme events, on many many parameters. [It’s] very important to keep the two complementary but [chuckles] separate.

CB: Let’s talk a bit about 2C then because obviously there are scenarios developed by scientists for 2C pathways. They all involve – almost all involve – negative emissions, some to quite an extent. That technology doesn’t exist on the scale we require it and there is a lot of research – in fact, a new paper out yesterday – which talks about the considerable constraints on it in the future. Do you think there’s a disconnect then between the ambition to keep temperature rise to below 2C and the reality of what it would involve?

MJ: Not yet, but there may be some at some stage. It depends how ambitious the thing is because the idea is that if action is taken relatively quickly you probably saw these scenarios, this curve from the IPCC, which shows that if you want to end up under 2C, if you keep on emitting, having growing emissions for a long time, you will have to reduce more dramatically and maybe go to negative afterwards. If you can get a good agreement in Paris, you will have to be climate neutral near the end of the century, which means essentially emissions are compensated by sinks. It is not the..the scale of the problem will depend on the time where you can really start to decrease significantly the emissions. Technology-wise, the WMO is not a competent organisation to talk about it so we just provide the scientific basis for that.

CB: That’s the reason I’m asking really, just because some people are quite vocal at the moment about it being almost the fault of the scientists who do the 2C modelling for not talking more about just how ambitious that is, just what it involves. It sounds like you don’t agree with that sort of criticism of the scientists themselves?

MJ: No, and you see this is where IPCC…it had three pillars, the work of the IPCC. One is the scientific basis, then you had the vulnerability and then you have the possible solutions. And I think, for me, it’s a good approach to the problem because they are not the same scientists dealing with these things. Meteorologists are not the people developing technology to capture and store carbon. These are different skills, different things and it’s important, however, to say that “if you do that, or if you don’t do that, what will be the consequence in terms of temperature, of extreme events, of that?” These are different skills. I’m not talking in areas where I don’t feel competent but I feel that we have competence in a few things and I want this knowledge, this competence to be available for decision-makers. If they want information on other things, they have to ask the competent people. I don’t feel competent for the others [chuckles].

CB: Do you the IPCC working groups are connected enough? Do you think there could be a little bit more work to connect the dots in between them?

MJ: Actually, even beyond the IPCC something which is still weak in my view is the connection between the physical climate scientists and the economic community, for example – there may be other things. And that’s something we try to encourage, more connection. They will remain different expertise but still, we have to work more closely with each other. So, not this is not optimal yet although there’s been progress, it is getting better. But there are quite a few areas where I think we need to look at it in a more cross-cutting way. And that doesn’t mean that everyone is dealing with everything but that we just get more interaction, cooperation across these various disciplines, which often do not have the traditions, the culture to work together.

CB: 2C is sometimes expressed as a gateway, the threshold if you like between acceptable warming and unacceptable warming. As a scientist, are you comfortable with that?

MJ: Now 2C, it’s a political decision. The impact of climate change, even with 1.5 – and you can hear the small islands describing – even 1.5 is serious for many of them. What is acceptable, manageable, depends on which country, which climate, which conditions you are living in. So what we know for sure, and that’s what we’ve described, is that the consequence with 2C are worse than with 1.5C. But the consequence with 3C will be even worse, much worse. And there may be also for some issues, some tipping points, it’s very difficult to quantify them exactly, but we know that beyond certain things, certain things could change dramatically beyond certain thresholds. And often these thresholds are a bit delicate. So in a sense, the higher you go, clearly the higher the risk. It’s not just a linear relation between the warming and the consequences. 1.5 already is a lot for low-lying small islands. But it can be a lot for also other things, like you see the melting of the glacier, already now you see the impact on some invasive species are moving north because of that. So you see quite a few consequences now. So, if we do nothing the problem is that we are not even on a 3C trajectory, the business-as-usual is more 4-5C on top to the 1C we have got already. And now we are in totally uncharted territory. For the human species.

CB: So the 2C temperature limit, or even 1.5C, they’re useful for anchoring discussions but you describe it, really, as a continuum – a continuum in terms of impacts related to temperature…

MJ: It’s a continuum, but not a linear continuum. So it’s rather increasing. The more the temperature increase, the faster the consequences. So yes, it is helpful and it has been selected because it is felt that, on average, globally, beyond 2C the cost for many places, many countries, the cost of adaptation will be much, much higher. The difficulty of adapting will be much higher as well, and in some cases it may become impossible. But there is nothing sort of magic about the exact 2C. 2.1C will be worse that 1.9C, and by the way 2C is not uniform: it will be less over the ocean, it will be more over land, it will be more at high latitude than at low latitude. And do not forget that temperature is only one aspect of the climate change. We should not forget all the other aspects of climate change.

CB: The UNFCCC has said that the countries’ INDCs as they stand take us to approximately 2.7C of warming. Some people have criticised that as being too optimistic, because actually that assumes a lot about what we do after 2030, and also, that’s still a relatively low probability of not exceeding that target. Do you think those sorts of things need talking about more, are those details clear enough? Or, again, is it just about doing as much as we can as soon as we can?

MJ: For sure we have to do as much as we can, as soon as we can. But at the same time it’s also correct that we have to look at the longer horizon, because what we shall emit after – if you want to stay under 2C not only do we need what is committed now, but it assumes that emissions even beyond 2030 will have to drop further and quite dramatically. And we know that this is what has been assessed by the IPCC, we know what will be the range of temperature increase depending on the various scenario even beyond 2030.

CB: We’re talking to you in the second week of the Paris talks. How do you sense the mood is, and how optimistic are you that ambition can be sustained after these talks?

MJ: If you just take a few indicators like the incredible number of heads of government at the beginning, for me has to be interpreted as a positive signal. It means that there’s a will to come to an agreement. All countries, I think, are willing to discuss the issue, which is also quite a significant change compared to what was the situation 10 years ago, or even more recently. That being said, there are still, as you know, many differences, many different positions, and the whole difficulty of the negotiation is to try to get all of these points of view together towards a joint agreement. But yes, I’m more optimistic than I was in previous COPs, at the same time, I guess the right word would be to be cautious – it’s a cautious optimism because we still have a lot of work to be done. It can be done. So, yes, we have to do it. We have no choice.

CB: Something called the European Scientific Advisory Mechanism has just been launched to ensure that the European commission has the best scientific advice. Do you think there is still – is there something lacking in that area?

MJ: That I cannot judge because certainly, this scientific advisory mechanism is advising, I’m sure, not only on climate, on many things. And indeed there are some climate specialists in the group, and I’m very happy with that. But I’m also sure that the scientific commission does not rely only on that group. I’m sure that all the IPCC reports are taken very much into account, as they are by all governments.

CB: What guidance or advice might you give to your successor, as Secretary-General?

MJ: I think that would be up to him to decide, but I’m sure that…you see the head of any organisation, may be a little bit of a catalyst. But at the end of the day the work is done by all the members and all the members of the planet are really committed to keep on working together, to do more efforts on the research, on observation, on capacity development, on human expertise. And I’m sure that my successor, will continue in the same direction.

CB: And one final question: what’s next for you?

MJ: I hope that I can continue to help, to make sure that my grandchildren and all grandchildren, all small children on the planet can have a sustainable planet to live on. So, I will continue to help.

CB: Thank you very much.

Main image: Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of World Meteorological Organization, (WMO), speaks to the media about the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, 09 November 2015. © SALVATORE DI NOLFI/epa/Corbis.

This interview was carried out by Roz Pidcock on Tuesday 8th Dec 2015 in Paris, during the second week of the COP21 climate negotiations.

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